Monthly Archives: January 2014

Saamethalu (Telugu Proverbs) 1

Every major language has pithy proverbs or native sayings that communicate wisdom. Often this is done with tongue and cheek references. Telugu is no exception.

The Saametha is an important part of Andhra culture. I thought it would be fun to start off the new year with a few of my favorites below. This will be the first of a running series of proverbs that I will be doing. I have gathered the inaugural sayings from a great site dedicated to Saamethalu.



“Aduvari matalaku arthale verule.”

The words of women have different meanings


“Amma kadupu chustundi, pellam jebu chustundi.”

Mother looks after your stomach, wife looks after your wallet


“Andham annam pettadu.”

Beauty alone doesn’t put food on the table


“Anna daanam kante vidya daanam goppadi”

It is better to give an education than to give food


“Inta gelichi rachha geluvu.”

Win at home and you win outside


“Inti donganu eeshwarudaina pattalaedu.”

When there’s a thief at home, even God can’t catch


“Dikku laeni vaadiki daevudae dikku.”

God can be the only direction for the directionless fellow

Tollywood, Travancore, & The Times



The New York Times launched an India focused blog some time ago called “India Ink”, which recently featured two interesting entries. One was on Tollywood (mana Telugu phillim industry) and the other was a tribute to the uncrowned Maharaja of Travancore (Thirvananthapuram in Kerala).

Some of you may be thinking, “Come on Nripathi, these two topics are hardly related.” But hold on, my dear fellow, there is indeed a connection in there: The clash of two ideals.

On the one hand, we have our ever busy, rarely classy, all masala Telugu film industry that idolizes crass and brash “heroes” and on the other, the very epitome of class and kingship, and heir to Marthanda Varma (of Colachel fame),

Sri Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma of Travancore.

Maharaja of Travancore

The putative Maharaja passed away last month, yet the encomiums continue to be lavished upon one of the rare living Royals who exemplified much of our ancient standards for kingship and kshatriyahood. He styled himself as less a demanding King and more a servant of Padmanabhaswamy (a form of Lord Vishnu)–who is the presiding deity of the region. Figures like him a truly worthy of the word “elite”. Indeed, when the vaults of the eponymous temple were opened, the Royal family of Travancore demonstrated their integrity as custodians of its immense wealth (estimated at $122 Billion, in gold coins and other treasures). 

The sprawling Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple, with its inestimable wealth, was at his command, but he was only its main caretaker and devotee. He respected the tradition of the maharajas visiting the temple every day, not only to worship, but also to ensure that the property and the staff were taken care of.

Meanwhile, in Hyderabad

Despite Tollywood’s prolific output and its passionate fans, the industry is facing its worst financial slump in a decade.

One of predominant exceptions to this has been the chart-topping success of Megastar Chiranjeevi’s younger brother, Kalyan Babu Konidela–better known as Pawan Kalyan. And yet, despite his sky high film success and training in Martial Arts (karate), “Gabbar Singh” has yet to make the transition from mass entertainer to cinematic artiste.

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Pawan Kalyan

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a banner year (or decade really) for Pawan Kalyan. He should be feted for being among the first to raise the profile of the industry (he apparently almost got American pop star Jennifer Lopez for an item number), and he has churned out hits like Tholi Prema and Thammadu, and more recently, box office monsters like Gabbar Singh and Attarintiki Daredi. But in an industry full of financial catastrophes, it would be nice to see a star of his stature occasionally mix masala films with genuine, high culture cinema.  Popcornfare is well and good, but there can only be so many each year or decade. With Tollywood now out producing Bollywood in sheer volume, perhaps Telugu producers will see the point of this New York Times blog and focus more on quality than quantity. 

Based in Hyderabad, the Telugu-language film sector, also known as Tollywood, releases an average of 135 to 150 titles annually, at times topping over 160, more than the average of 100 to 110 coming out of mainstream Bollywood.

The piece goes on to say that

It is not unusual for fans to worship stars, washing their statues with milk and making offerings of flowers, incense stick and camphor, rituals usually reserved for Hindu gods.”

Despite Tollywood’s prolific output and its passionate fans, the industry is facing its worst financial slump in a decade. and that

 “No good scripts, repeat of boring plot formulas, rehash of hits from other languages, an insipid mash of songs, fights and comedy. Small-budget movies by debutant directors don’t get screened. Near-monopoly of a handful of businessmen, who control studios, production, distribution and theater-screens, but are not passionate about movies as an art, has created this drought for a hit.”

It’s clear that by creating and recreating the Rowdy Alludus, Gangleaders, and Pokiris of yesteryear, the industry has become stale, and even kitschy as we lamented elsewhere. Indeed, there is a lesson for the people as well. Rather than doing abhisekham for their favorite movie stars, they should plug back into reality after the phillim credits roll and follow the example of the Travancore Raja, who instead presided over abhisekham for Lord Vishnu and served as a role model for society. The Raja’s ancestor, Marthanda Varma was famous for defeating both the Dutch imperialists as well as Tipu Sultan, who may not have been as “secular” and nationalist as our Eminent Historians had advertised.

The Pawan Kalyans, Mahesh Babus, Ravi Tejas, etc. of the world, are ultimately only movie actors. They do not change the fate of nations, like the elder Marthanda Varma, or that of mankind, like Padmanabhaswamy. Rather than performing milk bath for them, the people of Andhra should request them to make movies that will uplift them. Indeed, perhaps the best service these wealthy and talented artistes can do is to use their success to make movies that matter. Fictional rowdies make for great escapes for our masses, but historical figures (both past and present) serve to inspire and elevate the people. Here’s a good first step.  Whether it’s the elder or younger Marthanda Varma, and Bollywood or Tollywood, one hopes that Indian cinema will one day do such inspirational and dignified personalities justice as well.


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The Surrender of the Dutch at Colachel


Happy Sankaranthi (2014)

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Sankaranthi Subakankshalu!

Happy Sankaranthi (and Happy Pongal for those closer to the TN Border) 🙂

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Makara Sankaranthi is the Hindu Festival marking the Winter Solstice. This is the beginning of the period known as Uttarayanam where the Sun will rise in the Zodiac until the Summer Solstice. As per Hindu astrology/astronomy, the Sun enters Capricorn, or “Makara” rasee.

It is also considered the Harvest Festival in most parts of India, and so there is great feasting.

Andhra is no slouch in this department and ladies wear their finest Venkatagiris.


Festival Significance

Makara Sankaranthi marks the Winter Solstice and is a celebration of the Harvest across India. In Andhra, it generally spans over three days. Many people go back to their ancestral villages, where many rural sports, such as bull-racing and wrestling, take place in tandem.


In united Andhra the day before Sankaranthi is called Bhogi. In the morning, a large bonfire is constructed to burn away broken and worn out items. This is called Bhogi Manta. Some communities do Bhogi pandlu (sugar cane, etc) to bless children. A great feast is prepared. Nonvegetarians eat mamsahar (especially kodi kura) on Bhogi, but not on Sankaranthi day itself.

On Sankaranthi day, great pujas and celebrations are held. Wonderful designs (Muggu) are done using Rangoli

The Telangana region in particular is famous for kite flying on this day


Kites (Thaadi Pataalu (Patangs))are frequently flown from rooftops, making for quite  a view of the skyline. There are frequently kite-fighting competitions, which take place. The object is to cut the string of the opponent’s kite. It makes for great fun, and parts of India, such as Gujarat, have international kite festivals. Our people, as usual, specialize in eating ;).

The third day is called Kanuma pandaga, where cows are bathed, sanctified, and decorated. This is in appreciation for their contribution to a successful farming season. All three days, however, will feature the Haridasulu, who like Narada, sing and perform in praise of Lord Hari. They perform Harinama sankeerthana, with tambura and castanets.



Bellam Pongali, which is a sweet rice dish (kheer) is prepared in all 3 main regions of Andhra today. It is made from rice, jaggery, and milk. The dish symbolizes the abundance of the harvest. There is Peppercorn Pongali,  a favorite of Lord Venkateshwara, as well.


Ariselu are also a classic part of this day in Andhra.


Kadupaara Bhujinchandi and A very happy Sankaranthi to all our Readers !!  





New Year’s Resolutions from an Andhra Bidda

Dear Telugu Thalli,

2013 was a terrible year not only for your Telugu biddas, but your place of residence.

Fittingly, the samachram started off on an ugly note with the pall of the terrible crime heard ’round the world. It was all the worse because the breakdown of law and order due to corrupt government and poor policing was used to tar Indian culture, which you uphold in Andhra. Far from being only a northern phenomenon, even cabs in Hyderabad are no longer safe for ladies after dark.

It only got worse when a certain MLA from Hyderabad insulted the land and its native Dharma in an unprovoked hate speech, showing the true origin of communal violence in India. The uncultured boasts and self-serving lies of this descendant of barbaric razakars show that there are those who still work against India’s interests to restore tyrannical nizami rule. Later in the year, free on bail, the same clan even had the insolence to demand your replacement with urdu as the first language of a proposed Telangana state (which they’ve been quietly supporting for many years).

From there, we conveniently saw the unshelving of the dormant demand to split your very house in two. The specter of the Nizam-Telangana state demand was brought back and continues to loom. Your sons in Telangana have been tricked into distancing themselves from the illustrious Andhra name–many of them have even lost all sense as to praise the very Nizam who oppressed them and impoverished you.

Your Seemandhra and Rayalaseema children are no better. Like drunken fools, they continue to fight amongst themselves, engaging in political oneupsmanship and factionalism in the face of a foreign firangi ruler–and still support her once and likely future satrap. All this while your bangaramaina mallepuvvus prized above all–are being trafficked and sold in great numbers like chattel–frequently to foreigners from the desert and across  sea, and even more frequently by their own ammas and annas…

What’s more, a certain party is using unconstitutional  government programs to bribe people away from Dharma.

Last but not least, farmer suicides continue unabated, both in Andhra and the rest of the country.

In light of all these things, here are some resolutions for all your bangarus and bujammas


1. Pay attention

All the antakshari knock off shows and the latest [insert generic telugu hero here] movie can wait. There are serious problems and your MBBS or Computer Science degree alone won’t qualify you to understand them. You need to read up on history, understand your culture, speak/appreciate your language, and follow current events.

Don’t judge your leaders based on rhetoric or fashionability, but action. What have they done? Question everything.

2. Stop being petty, selfish, self-absorbed, and self-important.

You are not that important. Just because you are some supply chain manager, doctor, MP or even crorepati does not make you a king. Your petty ambitions should not be cause for dividing the house, breaking the family, or harming the people.

3. Quit being so damn naive

True, atithi devo bhava, but to receive such honor, the guest must behave like a guest.

Thus, Indians and Andhras alike need to stop being so gullible. This does not mean visitors should not be treated with courtesy and respect. But not every foreigner who claims to help is sincere about helping. The ancient Romans used to consider a true Roman one who was suspicious of foreigners–for good reason…Beware Greeks bearing gifts…

This also applies to your MP’s and MLA’s who promise you the world and deliver nothing. Sloganeering does not make for solutions.

4. Make time to learn and understand our Dharmic culture

Bollywood and Tollywood are not the essence of our culture. Being modern and fashionable does not mean forgetting morality and taste.

Put aside the Shakespeare and pick up the Kalidasa. Set aside Dawkins and pick up the Gita. Turn off the movies and tune in to the Theater.

5. Be respectful

Indians have a tendency to be overly deferential to foreigners and tyrannical to countrymen. I am not arguing the exact reverse, but your own people should not be treated worse than outsiders.

In line with that, Seemandhra and Rayalaseema people should ease up on their Telangana brothers. Yes, it is wrong for them to go along with bifurcation, but years of your mockery did not help to build bonds–in fact, it worked to break them. A little respect goes a long way

6. Mind your manners

Indians both local and diasporic have given themselves a terrible name in etiquette. While hustle and bustle in getting on trains and buses is understandable, cutting in line and making a mess in public is not.

Basic etiquette and manners must be a priority not only for Fresh off the Boaters, but the local mango manishi. Clean up your act, be considerate of others, and stop making a mess of yourself.

7. Stop using fairness creams

God made us the way we are. Take pride in that. Indians are not meant to look like Persians or Europeans. They are meant to look like Indians. In describing the ancient Indian aesthetic, Vatsyayana did not favor light complexion–in fact, he specifically argued against extremes. Draupadi’s actual name was Krishna (which literally means black), yet she herself was considered the most beautiful woman of her era.

By all means, take the time to properly groom yourself and look and be the best version of yourself–just don’t try to be a wannabe, lamer version of someone else.

8. Be a good global citizen by being a good local citizen

It is fashionable these days to say that “patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel”–but by that token “globalism is the last resort of the fool”.

People will only respect you if you respect yourself and country. It’s one thing to accept criticism (something prickly Indians should learn to do), quite another to wash your dirty laundry in public.

9. Learn when to shut up

Indians are masters of talking til all hours of the morning–with nothing to show for it and nothing resolved. Indians like to debate merely for the pleasure of debating, without understanding its purpose: to ascertain the truth. Indians are also masters of telling their life stories and giving away their vulnerabilities. Andhras are no slouches in any of these departments–hence no action to prevent their state’s division and political oblivion until it’s too late…

So when you meet someone who wants to work with you, when you meet someone who clearly knows more than you do, when you meet someone you don’t know, learn to shut up and listen…and most importantly…DO.


An Anxious Andhra Bidda